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Screenwriting Blog

  • Clemens Stein

10 Films From The 1960s Every Writer Should Watch

The 1960s was a revolutionary decade for cinema. Many filmmakers took risks with their storytelling, resulting in some of the most iconic films of all time. As a writer, watching films from this era can be an incredibly beneficial experience. Here are 10 films from the 60s that every writer should watch:

The Apartment (1960)

Billy Wilder’s classic comedy-drama is still relevant to screenwriters and audiences around the world even 63 years after its release. The film’s intelligent plot and witty dialogue remain timeless and the script’s great attention to detail when it comes to the characters' motivations and relationships is a masterclass every aspiring screenwriter should study. Billy Wilder won an unbelievable three Oscars in one night with The Apartment. (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay)

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Robert Mulligan’s adaptation of Harper Lee's novel is a masterclass in screenwriting. The story deals with serious themes such as racism and injustice but is presented in a way that is accessible and engaging. Horton Foote, who adapted the novel into the screenplay, won an oscar for his outstanding work. Aspiring writers can learn a lot from the film's use of symbolism and how the screenplay treats the sensitive subject matter in a respectful and nuanced way.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

David Lean's epic film about T.E. Lawrence is a prime example of visual storytelling. While the film relies on great visual scenery, using a lot of wide shots and stunning landscapes that convey the vastness of the desert, the character's inner turmoil is superbly captured through their expressions and body language. Knowing how to use subtext is a great tool every writer should master and that’s why we strongly recommend giving this all-time classic a chance.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

The 1960s were a great decade for Stanley Kubrick. The filmmaker’s satire on the Cold War is a brilliant example of how comedy can be used to explore serious topics. The film's sharp and witty screenplay features plenty of memorable lines and scenes that have become cultural touchstones. If you want to learn from the film's careful use of humor then you should consider comparing it to more modern satires. Taika Waititi’s oscar-winning screenplay for 2019’s Jojo Rabbit, a satire about a boy growing up in Nazi Germany, would be one example that’s worth your time.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

The story of the world’s most famous gangster couple, directed by Arthur Penn, is a classic example of the New Hollywood era of filmmaking. Writers David Newman, Robert Benton, and Robert Towne use a bold and unconventional form of storytelling, with a nonlinear structure that subverts audience expectations at every turn. Aspiring writers can learn a lot from the film's use of tone, pacing, and character motivation. The Academy was already very enthusiastic about the film after its release, awarding it a total of 10 Oscar nominations (2 wins).

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

This gripping prison drama, directed by Stuart Rosenberg, is a character study that explores the idea of rebellion and conformity. With a nuanced and layered screenplay that lays focus on the protagonist's internal struggle, the film managed to gain sweeping critical acclaim. Luke’s profound character arc is worth taking a closer look at if you want to become truly great at crafting well-rounded characters.

The Graduate (1967)

This film, directed by Mike Nichols, is a coming-of-age story that captures the confusion and uncertainty of young adulthood. Coming-of-age films are no rarity in modern cinema (Little Women, Little Miss Sunshine), but The Graduate is a great film to study if you want to learn what makes a coming-of-age story truly good and unique. Screenwriters Calder Willingham’s and Buck Henry’s writing is honest and raw, with great attention paid to the nuances of the character's emotions and relationships. When watching the film, try to pay close attention to its use of subtext, symbolism, and theme.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Stanley Kubrick's science fiction epic is a groundbreaking film that has inspired great modern filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve. It explores the nature of humanity and technology in a unique and nuanced way. While the writing is sparse and minimalistic, with much of the story conveyed through visuals and music, it is the transformative story that makes the film so memorable. New screenwriters can learn a lot from the film's use of imagery, symbolism, and subtext while simultaneously enjoying one of cinema’s most beloved masterpieces.

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy is a gritty and realistic portrayal of life in New York City during the late 1960s. The film features raw and honest writing which provides an incredibly engaging character study of a person’s struggles and relationships. Writer Waldo Salt’s dialogue and choice of pacing can teach writers and filmmakers a lot about their craft. Midnight Cowboy counts as Salt’s most impressive work and earned him an Oscar for best-adapted screenplay.

Each of these films has its unique style and approach to storytelling, but they all share some common elements that make them great examples of screenwriting.

Take risks with your storytelling. Many of these films take risks with their storytelling, using unconventional structures or themes to push the boundaries of what is expected from a film. Aspiring writers should learn how to take risks with their own storytelling, and be willing to experiment with new ideas and approaches.

Watching films from the 1960s can be an incredibly rewarding experience for new as well as experienced writers. The 10 films mentioned in this post all showcase great writing and offer valuable lessons on character development, subtext, pacing, dialogue, and risk-taking. By studying these films and applying their techniques to your writing, you can hone your craft and create compelling and memorable stories.

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